Hershey is a lot more diverse than it used to be, but the AACA Eastern Fall Meet remains one of the nation’s premier sources for prewar cars, parts, and automobilia. Case in point is this 1926 Chevrolet Superior V, seen in the car corral at the 2021 Hershey Meet. That’s V-as-in-Victory, not V-as-in-five; preceding Superiors were the 1923 Superior B, 1924 Superior F, and 1925 Superior K. While not outstanding in any particular way, it was the stylish, slightly more luxurious Chevrolet Superior that finally drove the utilitarian Ford Model T out of the market and made way for the ever-popular 1928-’31 Ford Model A.
Because of their wood-heavy construction and middling metallurgy, surviving General Motors products from the 1920s are thin on the ground today, especially the inexpensive Chevrolet cars, which didn’t often see second lives as hop ups or long-lived, Depression-era jalopies. In 2022, most pre-1936 Chevrolet cars are found as piles of rusty sheetmetal and occasionally as preserved engines running sawmills or other improvised machinery. Encountering a solid, nearly complete Chevrolet coupe that runs and drives for under $10,000 is a noteworthy experience, then.
Of course, this car was far from perfect, and was said to be a restoration project (started circa 1994) that originated as a barn find. The upholstery was slightly mismatched and appeared to be rodent damaged, though it wasn’t stained and seemed repairable. The exterior looked good at a glance, in period colors with nicely applied pinstriping, but the finish (apparently lacquer, replicating the original Duco) had cracked and lost adhesion in several places. The car boasted only a front bumper, leading us to wonder whether that was a later addition, or if the rear had been omitted since new. Nevertheless, those were cosmetic issues only and minor—easily overlooked on a car that already ran (nicely, even), drove, and stopped.
With us, most of the cars aren’t perfect,” says Stanley Sipko, curator at the AACA Museum, Inc., in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was that collection which led to me pondering this question, as there are very few of what you might call “thousand-point” restorations on hand. Points, of course, referring to the scoring systems used to judge competitors at numerous single-make shows held around the country each year.
Why wouldn’t museums seek out cars restored perfectly to factory-built condition? It’s because often those cars have no story to them beyond being representative of an agreed-upon ideal of what a particular car looked like when new. Museum exhibits rarely look to display that level of perfection because it’s not what the general public relates to when it comes to a museum. Automobiles matter most when considered in context rather than in a vacuum.
“My take as a curator is that it has to be for everyone. It has to be for the car people in this world and it has to be for the general public. That’s where it becomes a challenge. You could buy a warehouse, fill it with hundreds of cars, put out no labels, no nothing, but every car person would probably still come see it because it’s just fun to look at cars; but when you look at a museum, our job is to educate the general public as well and you have to make it interesting and relatable to everyday visitors.
“Be it the most-passionate automotive historian who may walk in our door, down to the least-knowledgeable visitor off the street. The hope is to make it great for them, so they tell their friends and come back.”
I considered calling this piece “I’ve been charging my batteries wrong and four other facts about battery chargers.” In fact, a lot of this is going to come off as common sense for those who have taken the time to read the manual for their battery charger. That’s because it comes to us not only via advice from our friends at Clore Automotive, but simply by virtue of a close reading of both the manuals for their “CHARGE IT!” line of portable and wheeled chargers, which have information specifically targeted at older exotic and classic cars and tractors, and a review of the instructions for my own DieHard charger, a circa-2010 legacy of my father, which seems to no longer be in production. They’re interesting and useful tidbits that may have eluded those of us who learned how to charge a battery via instruction or intuition.
1. There’s a reason for the range of amp-selection choices
Your charger, like mine, probably has several different settings to choose from. As seen below, mine has 2A, to use for smaller batteries, like those used in motorcycles and lawn tractors, and in certain other instances; 12A, “Fast Charge” for automobile starting batteries and marine/deep-cycle being charged with no special urgency; 30A, “Rapid Charge” for attempting to get a car or boat started in a hurry; and an 80A “Starting Mode” designed to work as a stand-in for another car when jump starting. I used the latter a couple times driving my ’64 Rambler through the subzero Michigan winter of 2013-’14 and I can vouch for its efficacy. The Charge It devices have similar settings: 10A for charging deep-cycle batteries, 40A for “Maintenance-free Automotive or Marine Cranking” units, plus a “high-amperage” starting mode.
2. Desulfation increases battery life
Other chargers I’ve had in the past had indicators for a special “Desulfation Mode” and while this one doesn’t, it does boast a secret blinky code disclosing that it has entered desulfation (a process that can last up to 10 hours!). What is sulfation, you might ask, and why must we reverse it? Sulfation occurs as a natural process of the battery’s chemical reactions. As the battery discharges, the sulfur derived from the sulfuric-acid electrolyte binds to the lead plates. This is normally reversed during charging, but chronic under-charging (often a result of lots of short trips) or long-term discharge (i.e. the car wouldn’t start and you just left it to sit after running down the battery) can result in that bond becoming semi-permanent.
Reversing the process comes from a kind of controlled overcharging that is only possible for hobbyists like me thanks to modern microprocessor-controlled battery chargers. You can see why in the 1920s, battery service stations were very much a thing: the sulfuric acid inside the case, the hydrogen gas produced during charging (still a risk—so watch out for sparks) and the serious electrical equipment involved made it a far more complicated hazardous undertaking back then.
3. Don’t fear positive-ground systems
Both my charger and the Charge It happily accommodate six-volt batteries. Charge one in the car and it’s good practice to double check which way the car is grounded. All modern cars and most older cars use the seemingly intuitive negative-ground system, where you’ll find the battery grounded to some heavy part of the chassis via its negative post. The opposite, called a positive-ground (“positive-earth” in other parts of the world) system, has some theoretical advantages, however, and is relatively common in the old-car scene—even on some 12-volt vehicles. The Charge It manual says the positive-ground arrangement “is usually found in pre-1970 foreign vehicles or pre-1970 farm tractors,” to which I’ll add many pre-1956 American automobiles.
Should you find yourself charging a positive-ground car (or farm tractor), you’ll simply need to reverse usual practice: connect the negative cable to the battery’s negative post and the positive cable to some sturdy chunk of metal at the other side of the engine compartment (NOT fuel line, carburetor, sheetmetal, etc.). Charging on the bench is even easier: just hook the battery up as shown in section 5.
For all their ubiquity today, bumper stickers are largely a post-World War II phenomenon. Instead, if you had some personality quirk you wished to display (your politics, your favorite sports team, a brand you enjoyed, or even some touristy spot or event you’d visited), you had roughly five options. The closest to the modern bumper sticker was a rectangular piece of cardboard that could be wired to your bumper; there was painting directly on your car, an option particularly popular with youthful drivers in worn-out machines; there were water-transfer decals to go on your glass; there were metal toppers and frames for your license plate; and finally there was the spare-tire cover.
Before the mid-1930s, the external spare tire was the norm. The cheaper the car, the more likely the spare was simply hung off the back, naked to the world. Manufacturers usually offered optional accessory hard and soft covers (along with locking hubcaps to prevent theft), but the plethora of colorful and interesting aftermarket covers were difficult to resist, thanks especially to a price subsidized by some company’s advertising budget.
The accessory spare-tire cover wasn’t a terribly durable sort of thing, although they usually outlasted waterslide decals and cardboard placards. They were typically made from oil cloth and screen printed or painted, often by the hand of some local sign painter. The elements and changing tastes have made actual vintage covers a rare and collectible item today, so we were thrilled to see this one pop up at the 2021 AACA Eastern Fall Meet at Hershey in the booth erected by Mike Wolfe of the American Pickers television show
The glorious blaze of the muscle car started to fade pretty quickly in the early Seventies. One of the remaining flames in the gathering darkness was the Pontiac Firebird. The senior F-body raged against the dying of the light for as long as it could, using Pontiac’s formidable 455-cu.in. V-8. When it debuted in 1970, the 455 was perhaps the ultimate refinement of Pontiac’s original 287-cu.in. Strato-Streak design of the mid-’50s.
The 455 hung on through 1976, although it was steadily detuned from its debut at 370 (gross, but probably understated) horsepower at 4,600 rpm and 10.25:1 compression. Of course, 1970 is generally recognized as the pinnacle of power output in the muscle era, but while most automakers simply began to detune their performance engines with lower compression and milder camshaft profiles, Pontiac wasn’t willing to throw in the towel just yet.
The result was 1971’s 455 H.O. engine, a package engineered to maintain respectable horsepower output paired with substantial torque, while also utilizing a low compression ratio—8.4:1 to be precise. The ’71 455 H.O. featured Pontiac’s “round-port” cylinder heads, a term that refers to the shape of the exhaust ports. This design had previously been featured on some of Pontiac’s highest-performing engines, including the Ram Air II and Ram Air IV 400s. The performance-tuned 455 for 1970 was also referred to as an “H.O.” but it had used Pontiac’s standard D-port heads. The new-for-’71 round-port 455 H.O. also featured Pontiac’s high-flow exhaust manifolds and an aluminum intake
Firebird buyers could have also selected a lower-output 455 D-port engine during the 1971 season, but when the ’72 models came out, the only 455 offered in the Firebird was the H.O., which carried a new net rating of 300 horsepower at 4,000 rpm. Torque was down only slightly, however, from the 500 lb-ft at 3,100 rpm of the high-compression era to a still-respectable 415-lb-ft at 3,200 rpm.
The flip side of lowered compression ratios (and other de-smogging and fuel-efficiency efforts) was that in order to sell performance cars with increasingly less sheer power, the manufacturers that wanted to stay in the game had to focus on two things: style and handling. A certain subset of period cars took the stylistic excesses to a questionable extreme, but once again Pontiac excelled, pushing out its Firebird pony car in various degrees of economy, luxury, and performance—all very easy on the eyes.
The second prong of the period performance strategy was competent manners in more than just a straight line. The 1964 GTO has been justly criticized for its handling and undersized drum brakes. By 1972, thanks to several years of research in the SCCA’s competition laboratories (i.e., Trans-Am racing), the Wide Track gene had reasserted itself in time to save the excitement in the Firebird line
At the top of the performance heap was the appropriately named Trans Am, with its shaker hood scoop, spoilers, and race-car vibe. For those with a more buttoned-down taste, the Trans Am’s capabilities could be had in Formula trim.
The Formula sat just below the Trans Am in the Firebird hierarchy. At the bottom was the basic Firebird, a no-frills car that came standard with a 250-cu.in. six-cylinder and a column-shifted three-speed manual transmission. The step up from that was the Esprit, which offered essentially the same car with some upgrades, like extra sound deadening, deluxe interior appointments, and V-8 power: a two-barrel, single-exhaust, 350-cu.in. V-8 with 8.0:1 compression. To that, the Formula added a 1-1/8-inch front anti-sway bar, firmer shock absorbers, fatter tires (still on 14-inch wheels) and some distinctive visual features.
A Formula didn’t come standard with all the Trans Am goodies, for sure, but most were on the option list. The X-code 455 itself, for example, was the standard engine in the $4,300-ish T/A, but despite the Formula’s exotic, fiberglass, dual-snorkel hood, a dual-exhaust, 175-hp version of the Esprit’s standard engine was the Formula’s base mill. A four-barrel, 400-cu.in., 300-hp engine was a Formula-specific option as well, for those who perhaps didn’t have the financial wherewithal to purchase and insure a 455
Back in November, we were excited to learn that Dave Shuten, of Galpin Speed Shop, will be restoring the X-Sonic Corvette to its 1960s appearance. The X-Sonic was a groundbreaking custom car in the late-1950s that not only inspired Ed Roth to begin crafting his famous bubble tops, but also helped introduce the custom-car world to hydraulics.
Hydraulic suspension (and its spiritual descendent, airbags) on custom and lowrider cars is commonly known today. But where and when did hydraulics make the leap from being aircraft parts to automotive suspension pieces? The answer, of course, is in post-World War II California, where two enthusiasts—seemingly separately and unbeknownst to one another—used parts found in military surplus stores to create the first suspension systems that could be impracticably low for car shows but raised for driving
One of those men was Jim Logue, a North American Aviation employee who lived in Long Beach in 1957 and took inspiration from Citroen’s factory hydropneumatic suspension to modify his 1954 Ford. The other was Ron Aguirre, a resident of Rialto, who around the same time saw a hydraulic ram being used for dent removal and thought he might use something similar to avoid future violations for the lowness of his 1956 Corvette. Today, Logue and his Fabulous X54 have faded from popular memory, but Aguirre’s bubble-topped X-Sonic persists as the poster child for “the first” hydraulics-equipped custom car.
As a successful contender on the indoor-car-show circuit of the 1960s, the X-Sonic went through a few iterations and wound up heavily modified, including the aforementioned bubble top, substitution of a Turboglide transmission for the original three-speed, and even the elimination of a conventional steering wheel in favor of an electric motor controlled by toggle switches! The bubbletop and unconventional steering marked the transition of the car from street custom to all-out show car.
If there is a single race known to most American drivers, it’s the Indianapolis 500. When it started in 1911, it was a laboratory where automobile manufacturers developed their products. After World War II, though the race cars had long since diverged from road cars, the Memorial Day pageantry of Indy was still America’s national showcase of automotive prowess.
That nationwide familiarity with the 500 long meant that an invitation to provide a pace car for the race was the best free advertising available to any manufacturer that wanted to promote a performance image. From 1949 to 1970, the list is loaded with Detroit’s sportiest machines: Oldsmobile 88 (with the brand-new Rocket V-8), Mercury Eight, Chrysler New Yorker (with the first-year FirePower hemi V-8), Ford Crestline, Studebaker Commander (with its nearly new OHV V-8), Dodge Royal 500 (with the new Red Ram hemi V-8), Chevrolet Bel Air (in the first year of the legendary small-block V-8), De Soto Adventurer, Pontiac Bonneville, Chrysler 300, Ford Mustang, Plymouth Sport Fury, and so on.
It was still true in 1974, when Olds introduced the latest iteration of the Hurst/Olds with the proclamation “Guess who’s leading the pack at Indy again?” The 1974 race would be the fifth time an Oldsmobile had paced the event since World War II, a streak started by the 1949 88. That new “Rocket 88” was arguably the instigator of the first postwar horsepower wars, thanks to its new OHV V-8 and relatively lightweight A-body platform. By ’74, the 88 had long since moved to the B-body platform and the A-body, now an intermediate, underpinned the Cutlass series.
At that point, nearly halfway through “The Me Decade,” street performance had been steadily diminishing since the highs hit only a couple years earlier. Even in the intermediate segment, once the stronghold of pure muscle, personal luxury had taken hold as a replacement. Nevertheless, Oldsmobile had successfully blended performance with style in the 1950s and ’60s and wanted to do it again in the ’70s — even if insurance companies, government regulators, and OPEC had put the kibosh on the high-compression, high-rpm V-8 engines of the late ’60s
The H/O started out in the 1968 model year, when George Hurst and Jack “Doc” Watson shoehorned an Oldsmobile Toronado 455, tuned up to 390 horsepower, into a regular 4-4-2 (replacing its 400-cu.in. engine) and treated it to special paint and graphics. The result, built for Oldsmobile in quantity by Lansing, Michigan-based Demmer Engineering, allowed General Motors to maintain the fiction that it did not permit engines in excess of 400-cu.in. in its intermediate line, while simultaneously permitting Olds dealers to sell what the public really wanted.
Thanks to its origin via back-door shenanigans and immensely respectable performance, the 1968-’69 H/O is remembered as one of the top-tier muscle cars of its era, ranked by enthusiasts alongside Chevrolet COPOs, Pontiac Royal Bobcats, Holman-Moody Fords, and the unrestrained triple-carbureted and Hemi-powered machinery from Plymouth and Dodge. The advantage the Oldsmobile had over most of that specialist performance, however, was that you could get one virtually anywhere.
Oldsmobile had revived the Hurst/Olds concept for 1972, when it was invited to provide the pace car for that year’s Indy 500 (see HMM #181, September 2018) and discovered that the then-current iteration of the 4-4-2 (really just a handling-and-appearance package on the Cutlass S) wasn’t quite exciting enough for the job. That’s somewhat ironic, as the Hurst/Olds had originally been discontinued after 1969 because the massive Oldsmobile 455-cu.in. V-8 had become available as a regular production option, meaning the ’70 4-4-2 had been perfectly suited to its own pace-car duties.
The Cutlass was a hit in the ’70s and into the ’80s, surpassing the Delta 88 as the best-selling Olds for the 1975 model year and then becoming America’s best-selling car, period, for 1976 and again for 1978 to 1981. The Hurst/Olds wasn’t around that whole time, but in its periodic revivals, it served as the Cutlass line’s halo car. If Oldsmobile and the Cutlass were still around, we might even have one today on that Alpha platform shared with the Chevy Camaro and Cadillac CTS.
I just came across all these parts stripped out of a 1933 Dodge Brothers DP Six. Presumably, that’s a sign that the body and frame are in the process of being street rodded. These parts are hardly useless, however, as they’ve got plenty of life left in them. Yes, you could set them aside planning to find and restore another ’33 Dodge, but I think they’d make the perfect basis for that rarest of creatures: a non-Ford speedster.
Early (i.e. pre-1949) Fords are neat. I love them. That said, there are a lot of them out there. Go to a prewar car event and Model T’s, Model A’s, and early V-8s are everywhere. People loved them and saved them and a whole industry (Hemmings included) grew up around keeping them alive long after the point when Ford Motor Company had moved on to more complicated and profitable designs.
Of course, even in the 1920s, when at times the Model T represented roughly half of the new-car market, Ford wasn’t alone in producing capable, affordable cars. One of its biggest rivals was Dodge Brothers, which had started life as a supplier to many of Detroit’s early players and was especially important to the eventual success of Henry Ford’s operation.
The brothers themselves, John and Horace, died in 1920, only six years after debuting their eponymous automobile. Dodge (which didn’t drop “Brothers” until 1938 or so) continued along after their demise, controlled by heirs and financial backers, especially investment bank Dillon, Read & Company, which acquired the Hamtramck-based automaker in 1925 and then sold it to Chrysler Corporation in 1928.
If you pay under $100,000 for an authentic 1967 Shelby G.T. 500 these days, you’re doing pretty well. It’s not at all uncommon for nice examples to tickle the quarter-million mark at auction. Rare and exclusive to begin with, Shelbys have only gone up in value as the young men and women who wanted one when they were new have now reached the peak of their disposable income and free time. A Shelby like this was the dream of every Fordophile teen in the late ’60s, but they only built 2,050 of them, so they’ve always been an exclusive car.
Not every 17-year-old in 1967 could own a new Shelby G.T. 500, either, but John Briggs could. That’s because his mother, Mitzi Stauffer Briggs, was an heir to the Stauffer Chemical fortune and could easily afford the $4,714.67 sticker price. His father, also named John, had flown fighter planes during World War II. Perhaps unsurprising, then, that the big-block pony car seemed a perfect fit for the teenager with both money and a taste for high performance. Maybe it was, as that teen went on to become an adult who regularly competed in the Formula 2, Formula 5000, Formula Atlantic, and Can-Am racing series before his untimely death from leukemia at age 46 in 1996.
A G.T. 500 was a lot of car for any driver, thanks in large part to the 355-hp, 428-cu.in. “Cobra Le Mans” V-8 — an FE-series big-block topped with two four-barrel carburetors. The ’500 only became possible for the 1967 model year because Ford had widened the engine bay in the Mustang to accommodate the FE-series 390 in its GT models. Shelby recognized immediately that where a 390 fit, so would go a 427 or 428. The milder, more streetable 428 got the nod for all but three special 427 powered 1967 GT500s that left Shelby American.
As a part of the package, Shelby also included additional cooling, a suspension beefed up for handling, a special steering wheel, a deluxe interior, an integrated roll bar, a remote mirror, a tach, and additional gauges to monitor oil pressure and amps. The G.T. 500 also included power steering, power disc brakes, shoulder belts, a radio, and a fold-down rear seat. The four-speed was a no-cost option and California emissions equipment was mandatory.
Right off the lot, Car and Driver discovered a G.T. 500 was capable of 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and a quarter-mile run in just 15 seconds at 95 mph. Box stock, it was a highly capable machine and a flourishing aftermarket existed to make any muscle car even more muscular.
Despite its impressive equipment list and the current desirability of all things Shelby, young John didn’t keep his G.T. 500 long, selling it to the family gardener, Joe Tanouye, for $1,500 in August 1969. In the two years he owned it, however, John made extensive use of the car, road racing it at Laguna Seca (now WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca) and drag racing it. He also took advantage of many aftermarket parts for his Shelbyized pony car
A “For Sale” sign discovered in the Shelby during disassembly boasted that the car was capable of accelerating from 0 to 120 mph in 12.5 seconds, thanks to over $6,000 in modifications, including Traction Master bars, an Isky Racing camshaft kit, headers by Doug [Thorley], 4.11 gears, Super-Duty Monroe load-leveler rear shocks, a Hurst shifter, American Racing mag wheels, Goodyear tires (inside rear-wheel arches radiused to accommodate slicks), and a magneto with dual coils. The sign also suggested that the interior had been gutted, though it was included in the sale.
What was missing was the entirety of the California emissions equipment, which prevented Tanouye from ever registering the car for road use during his ownership. Instead, it sat on a paved slab behind his house in Redwood City, California, until 2014. Joe Tanouye had died in 2012 and his son, Nick, put the car up for sale. It was spotted by Ward Gappa, of Quality Muscle Car Restorations LLC, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Ward was impressed with the completeness and low mileage of the old Shelby and acquired it to restore, although it had been “beat to death in its first two years.” That decision was bolstered by the lack of rust and early ownership history, making it what Ward felt was a “good investment.”
Had the original Mustang not been dubbed a “pony car,” it could have just as easily been pegged as a sport compact. It was just a regular Ford economy car, the Falcon, slightly reconfigured for better proportions and handling. Still, it didn’t weigh much (well under 3,000 pounds, even for a convertible like this) and the 120-horsepower, 200-cu.in. six-cylinder moved a base-model convertible in a suitably sporty manner for the era. Eras change, however, and today the average driver is used to not only more responsiveness in a vehicle, but better braking, lower engine speed on the highway, and a whole host of other conveniences—even while the car drinks far less fuel than the 20-or-so miles per gallon boasted by the original “Thrift Power Six” engine, created for the 1960 Falcon.
By 1965, the original four-main, 90-hp, 144-cu.in. Falcon six had matured into a seven-main engine of considerable durability and adequate economy. Sticking with a manual transmission, as this car was originally equipped, did a lot to improve the driving experience. A floor-shift three-speed was standard equipment in a Mustang, with a Dagenham four-speed borrowed from Ford of England as an option for drivers of a sportier bent.
In regard to engine sizes, the 2.3-liter designation has been around a long time now for Ford. It could have described the original 144-cu.in. Falcon six, but it has mostly referred to four-cylinders. At present, Dearborn’s 2.3-liter is a direct injection, turbocharged four-cylinder that is part of a Ford Motor Company program to replace cylinders and displacement with extremely precise air and fuel management. When paired with a six-speed manual, it is the modern Mustang’s equivalent of this car’s base powertrain setup.
This engine appealed to Paul Cuff, our feature car’s owner. Paul, of Angel’s Camp, California, is the owner of America Road Trips, which offers collectible car rentals and road trip planning services, like itineraries for cruising Route 66. Or, for instance, if you’ve ever dreamed about driving an old convertible along California’s Pacific Coast Highway, Paul can help you out including renting you the smartly restomodded 2.3-liter EcoBoost-powered Mustang featured here.
“The concept for America Road Trips rentals spawned out of a Route 66 road trip in April of 2019,” Paul says. “That trip consisted of late model Mustangs, Shelbys, and an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. In mid-2019, the process of searching for the “prototype” vehicle began in earnest. I wanted to take a vintage first-generation Mustang and incorporate virtually all the features that made our 2019 Route 66 road trip seamless and problem-free.
“That trip through the Desert Southwest in springtime had actually started out with plans to drive vintage cars, “but the desire for air conditioning and a late model drivetrain won out,” Paul relates. So, what if there was some way to merge the two? To that end, he sought out the assistance of the Grotto brothers, Mike and Dave, retired law-enforcement officers and builders of an award-winning Pro Street 1966 Mustang fastback known as Toxic 66.
Paul wanted people to have a worry-free experience driving his ’65, which he purchased as a non-running but cosmetically restored car in Colorado.